All smiles for North as Tufts heads west

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Michela North has risen to the top of the Tufts all-time scoring, rebounding and blocked shots list.
Photo by Danny Reise, WUSTL photos

By Sarah Sommer

When Tufts senior center Michela North misses a layup or makes a bad pass, she smiles and laughs.

“I’ve always found that if I’m smiling, I’m playing better,” North said. “Not everyone is laughing on the court when they mess up, but I think that’s definitely helped me.”

Michela North was a second-team All-America selection in 2016 and seems certain to become a two-time All-American when the team is announced at the Final Four.
Photo by Danny Reise, WUSTL photos 

North has laughed all the way to Tufts’ fourth consecutive Final Four. Now, she will try to help the Jumbos win their first NCAA championship. No. 4 Tufts (29-2, 9-1 NESCAC) faces No. 2 St. Thomas (31-0, 18-0 MIAC) in the national semifinals on Friday. The winner of that game will face the winner of No. 1 Amherst and No. 10 Christopher Newport’s matchup in the national championship game.

Whether Tufts gets past St. Thomas likely will have a lot to do with how North, the Jumbos’ likely two-time All-American, plays. The 6-2 North will be guarding 6-3 senior center Kaitlin Langer “from time to time,” Tufts coach Carla Berube said. Langer — also an All-American — averages 19.3 points per game and is shooting 54.8 percent from the field.

Tufts takes pride in its defense, and North’s post presence has helped make the Jumbos the nation’s second-best defensive team this season. Tufts allows just 42.5 points per game. North has blocked 46 shots.

North is coming off a terrific all-around performance in Tufts’ Elite 8 victory at No. 6 Washington U. She had game-highs of 20 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks. North made nine of 12 field goals. She scored eight of her points in the third quarter, when Tufts turned a 19-18 halftime lead into a 41-30 advantage. The Jumbos won 57-43.

But true to Tufts’ form, North’s priority had been defense.

“I knew that they had some really big and good post players,” North said. “So I really went into the game just thinking about my defense and knowing that I was going to have to be big on the defensive boards and boxing them out.”

North also stood out in Tufts’ 65-48 Sweet 16 win against Scranton, finishing with 11 points and 11 rebounds. She had 10 points and 13 boards in the Jumbos’ 64-44 second-round win over Husson.

“She’s been a beast,” Berube said. “She’s been what we’ve needed from her, and hopefully she can continue to do that. We’ve just got to keep her on the court and got to keep her out of foul trouble and give her some breaks here and there, but we need her on that court for us to be successful.”

North is averaging 11.1 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game this season. On Nov. 27, she became Tufts’ all-time leading rebounder in a 53-37 win over Brandeis. She has grabbed 1,052 rebounds in her career. North also has 213 total blocks, good for second place among Tufts’ all-time blocks leaders.

North became Tufts’ all-time leading scorer on Jan. 28 in a 73-44 victory over Bates. She has scored 1,543 points in her career. And she has done it without a single 3-pointer.

“When I scored 1,000, I didn’t even bother looking at whatever the all-time leading record was, because I knew Colleen Hart got it, who was an incredible 3-point shooter,” North said. “I never thought I would get close without a three.” Hart, who scored 1,422 points, reached that mark in part by making a Tufts-record 231 3-pointers.

North has never even attempted a 3-pointer in a game. Not that she can’t make shots from downtown. When Tufts played 3-point knockout during a shootaround last weekend, North finished in second place, she said. She also regularly makes 3-pointers during practices.

“We have a couple of shooting drills where she has to take 3’s, and she’s done it,” Berube said. “She’s not bad, but she’ll never do it [in a game].”

“I am just a back-to-the-basket, post-up player, and that’s what I’m comfortable doing,” North said. “I leave the 3-point shooting to the people who are used to it.”

But North did not rule out taking a 3-pointer this weekend. “My teammates really, really want me to just shoot one, just for the heck of it,” North said. “It’s not something I’m exactly planning on, but if the occasion arises where I am really open and we need a three, then I’d be fine taking one.”

North would be more fine with returning to the national championship game. Tufts reached the title game last season for the first time, falling 63-51 to Thomas More. North has thought about the current season since soon after that defeat.

“The next day, it was definitely tough, but in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘At least I still have one more year,’” she said. “I couldn’t imagine what the seniors were feeling at that point.”

Though North is often lighthearted, “she also knows when to get serious,” Berube said. “In locker-room talks during halftime or before the game or after the game, I can always hear her voice and the serious tone that she brings.”

North is serious about winning.

“Winning a national championship,” she said, “would be one of the best accomplishments of my life.”